"What Makes You Rejoice?"
A Sermon By:
David D. McDonald
Text: Psalm 150
Luke 13: 10-17
June 28, 2020
NRSV Psalm 150
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
NRSV Luke 13:10-17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day." 15But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
One of the classic Sabbath stories from American Rural life is this:
"An elderly farmer was finishing his haying one Sunday morning as the pastor of the church drove by. 'Brother,’ said the preacher, 'don't you know that the Creator made the world in six days and rested on the seventh?' "Yes,' said the old farmer, "I know all about that but he got done and I didn't!'" O' For the Life of a Preacher, The Rev. Leon Hill, p. 63.
Many of us grew up with that tradition and perspective.
All through the centuries in which the scriptures were written, until the present, there have been long, animated, and hotly contested discussions about the purpose of the Sabbath. The book of Genesis takes the view that the Sabbath was established because the Lord God made heaven and earth and all of creation in six days and rested on the seventh. Therefore, the weekly rhythm of God's children was to be modeled after these stories in Genesis when life was nomadic. A day of rest was for the rest of foot weary travelers and their beasts of burden for their health and gave them a time to look at the stars, count their numbers and rejoice! As time passed and these nomads began to cultivate the ground; they paused from their labors to celebrate the gifts of grain and fruit. So dedications to God for the blessings of the land and fold developed. Moreover, as sinful human nature raised its ugly head the enemies of Israel often cared less about whether the day of war was a Sabbath or not. So, it became necessary for the people to protect themselves in case of attack. Hence, in an evolving understanding of the Sabbath; provisions were made to release from Sabbath obligations those serving in the military and called to duty.
By the time the Book of Exodus is recorded, the nature of the Sabbath has evolved ever so slightly, but significantly. In the giving of the commandments at Mt. Sinai the people of Israel are first told:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Exodus 20:8
Throughout the book of Exodus there is an emphasis upon the developing worship of the people. Moses approaches Pharaoh at first to allow him to take the people into the wilderness that they might worship. Freedom to worship is what initially takes center stage in the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. The quest for freedom begins as a quest for freedom to worship. According to the Exodus account, Pharaoh has set himself up as God and is attempting to control the minds and spirits of Israel. This is a direct challenge to Yahweh’s sovereignty and the stage is set for the Almighty to deliver his people from human bondage. The Sabbath will be set aside in the wilderness so that the people of Israel will take time to worship. They will pause as the Lord did in the creation story and they will "Give thanks!" Even as the Lord paused and declared his handiwork, "Good!"
At the very center of this morning's reading from Luke’s Gospel is a controversy over the Sabbath. The matter of healing and care taking becomes a focal point. The woman whose name we do not know, but who is described as stooped, has come to worship. She is in the habit of worship. Her deformity which has afflicted her for 18 years has not prevented her from coming. Those of us who live in the 21st century have little appreciation for the obstacles, which confronted this woman. Her gender is an obstacle. Women were not allowed in the same section of the synagogue as the men, and worshipped in an area off to one side in the temple court. Jesus is bucking the system by recognizing this woman in front of all these men. Moreover, her deformity is in itself an obstacle to worship. The deformed were seen as being punished by God for their sinfulness and consequently were shunned. No one welcomed this lady to worship. They would rather not be seen with her. Once again, Jesus is bucking a system that excludes those who are less than physically perfect. Jesus sees her and sees the oppression of a whole segment of the population, which he gladly confronts. There is little joy on the faces of the gathered congregation until this woman is healed and she praises God!
Moreover, also note that Jesus refers to her as:
"...a daughter of Abraham...."
This statement is scandalous. Not only has Jesus recognized this woman ahead of many men, he has called upon a lady with a deformity, and he has the audacity to say that her line and lineage is every bit as pure and holy as anyone else’s. She is an heir of Abraham, which is to say that she is part of the blessed children of God's chosen people. She is chosen! The fact that Jesus has called upon one so thoroughly outside the norm is a trigger for the self-righteous leader of the synagogue. Things have never been done this way! Jesus has affronted the sensibilities of the synagogues leaders. He has ignored them while drawing attention to this deformed woman, whom they conclude is surely among the worst of sinners because God has afflicted her for 18 years. Well, Jesus obliterates that argument as soon as this woman is healed and she stands like everyone else and her face and actions are filled with pure joy!
The reaction of the synagogue's leader is as predictable as it is reprehensible. By setting his remarks in the context of observing the Sabbath he has chosen a most ancient and revered practice. Rest on the Sabbath is obligatory. Jesus is working! There are six other days in which healings can take place. The leader of the synagogue wants to know why the decorum and reverence of Sabbath worship has been wrecked. He lifts up doing things decently and in order and on schedule! I understand the objections of this leader of the synagogue all too well, don’t you? That's the difficult and frightening impact of this passage.
Completing my seminary education I received a call to Loch Willow Presbyterian Church in Churchville, Virginia, outside of Staunton in the western part of the state. I had been trained in the interpretation of Old and New Testament. I had been trained in homiletics and pastoral care, I had even a course in Presbyterian polity, but nothing quite prepared me for what would happen that first Sunday, in May, when I was in the pulpit. Prior to the service, one of my elders stopped me to say that there was a man in the community, Ammon Wolfe by name, who was not a member of the church, but came most Sundays, usually just as service started. I was told that he was a peculiar man who lived in a one room shack up on the hill behind the church and that he had some mental deficiency and dressed in heavy clothes even in the hottest part of the summer because he never knew when a winter storm was coming and he wanted to be prepared. Session had discussed this and just hadn’t fixed the problem! Well, service started and sure enough, the doors creaked open and a man six three or six four entered the sanctuary with a burlap sack and a cane, dressed as if old man winter was brewing a blizzard. He was sweating profusely and I could tell by the reaction of the congregation as he walked by, that he had not bathed in quite some while. He hobbled down the center aisle, aided by his homemade cane, all the way to the pew second from the front. He slid into the pew, plopped his sack down (I later had reason to learn that it contained whatever prize find he had made like 50 pounds of rotting potatoes discarded from the grocery store), leaned into the corner of the pew and threw one leg over the pew in front of him. I had been told of his coming, but nothing had prepared me for his arrival. Something in me from all my days of growing up in proper and traditional Presbyterian churches rebelled against the idea of some one so shabby, marching into the most reverent moment of the week and doing what I was trying hard to keep my two toddlers from doing. He was happy and he knew it and his face surely showed it.
Ammon taught me a lot about church and community. He was well in his eighties I eventually learned. He was physically as hard as a rock and as sure footed as a mountain goat. He came when other people often would not venture out. He often needed a ride into town and waved your car down if he knew you - sometimes stepping right out into the road in front of you, making you screech to a stop to pick him up. As long as you breathed through your mouth things were O.K. He had a tremendous common sense of right and wrong and he was exceptionally kind. In many ways he was a child at heart. He understood the joy of simple pleasures!
He showed up on my front porch one Christmas morning with a card upon which he had scribbled an X because someone once had told him that was how he should sign things. With the children unwrapping Christmas I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I stepped out on the porch that Christmas! He was smiling! In his hand were two bags of candy; one for each of my children. He waved as he drifted off the porch and I had a deep sense that he was as much a part of that congregation as anyone else. He has been dead almost thirty years now, but he is one of those people who are unforgettable. His story like this stooped woman in the Gospel of Luke is among the mighty acts of God. There is an old expression that perhaps says it best, Wonders Never Cease.
It is clear that God used the routine of this woman in Luke’s Gospel to bring out the wonder of God's work among us. It is also clear that God used this occasion to turn the artifice of self-righteous religion on its head. Jesus was also fomenting a revolution in the way in which the people viewed religious life. Our Lord was attempting to move people from a stance of observing religious tradition to a position of worship. Giving thanks and giving praise are natural responses to great events in our lives. For this woman who was stooped, healing was a wonderful gift. Her recovery brought a response of praise and joy!. Luke is brief and succinct on this point. The passage says simply:
"When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God." Luke 13:13
This God of whom Jesus spoke healed and made whole again. This God who dwelled in the body of Christ welcomed those who had for too long been excluded from worship. All were invited to come and share in the worship and service of God. It was a wonderful and joyous occasion as worship should be!
"In one of his great writings called Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton writes about Jesus and why he G.K. Chesterton, became a Christian. Chesterton was once an avowed atheist, who railed against Christianity. ‘Then,’ he said, "as I have studied and restudied the life of Jesus, I have discovered the great secret He kept hidden from everyone was His great joy.'"....
"We are a forgiven, redeemed people, who belong to the faithful flock on the way to heaven. We are people with great joy." Burgess, p.118.
The stooped lady in this story knew the joy of Christ. Paul knew the joy of Christ. The great Christians of any age have come to know Christ's joy. It is the power of Christ's spirit to bring joy while we are at work or while we are at rest. What makes you rejoice and give praise to God? Let us share and rejoice what God is doing and has done for us.